PORTLAND — The committee overseeing renovations at four elementary schools recommended the School Board hire a contractor for work at Lyseth Elementary, even though the bid came in $2.8 million higher than anticipated.

The District Advisory Building Committee met April 25 and said the architect and school administration should find up to $750,000 in cost savings and use project reserve funds to cover the remaining overrun.

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana on Monday said his goal now is to manage the remaining renovation projects, planned for Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche schools, to ensure the cost of the work does not exceed the $64 million voters authorized borrowing in November 2017.

However, he warned, in the current construction environment “costs are coming in higher than we originally envisioned.”

That’s a reason the building committee has also recommended the School Board now approve a request for proposals for architect services for the three remaining projects.

Harriman, an architecture, engineering and planning firm based in Portland, was hired to design the Lyseth project, which includes a new gym, new administrative space, new spaces for music and art, and other upgrades, particularly improved security.

Botana, however, said Harriman may not be the successful bidder on the three remaining schools. The goal there, he said, is to expedite those projects while also possibly enticing more bidders with work guaranteed over a period of several years.

Construction costs for the Lyseth renovation were originally pegged at $11.7 million. But, when the bids were opened on April 16, only two contractors had responded and both were higher than Harriman had anticipated, even though the firm had already significantly scaled back the project.

Hardypond Construction of Portland bid $14.5 million and Ducas Construction, of Scarborough, bid nearly $14.7 million.

The School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 7 to discuss the committee recommendations, Botana said. He said if the board approves hiring Hardypond,  work on the Lyseth project could begin right away. Botana said construction would then be expected to take about 24 months.

He anticipates there would be three separate decisions on the board agenda next week. One would be on hiring Hardypond, a second would be for granting permission to use project reserves to cover the cost overrun, and a third would be on sending out the RFPs for the three remaining schools.

School Board members Sarah Thompson, Laurie Davis and Emily Figdor serve on the building committee and Thompson, who co-chairs the group along with City Councilor Justin Costa, said that Roberto Rodriguez, the School Board chairman, also attended last week’s meeting.

Thompson said she hopes a unanimous recommendation from the building committee will convince the School Board to vote in favor of its proposals, which would ensure the Lyseth project moves forward this year.

“We need to lock in the contract with Hardypond,” she said. “The vote was unanimous and we worked hard and really dug in and looked at the numbers.”

Both Thompson and Botana also said the Lyseth Building Level Advisory Committee is on board with the recommendations.

Thompson said the cost overrun was in two categories: site work and electrical. She said it may be possible to remove some of the site work from the project and rebid it at a later date, which could reduce current costs.

However, Facilities Director Steven Stilphen on Monday said he’s not sure that will be possible. He said digging for utilities and sewer and water is required and that’s the most costly and time-sensitive of the site work required. He also said value engineering could reduce some costs, especially in terms of materials used for curbing, flooring and lighting fixtures.

But Stilphen said he is unsure the School Department can reach the $750,000 in cost savings without “drastic changes” to the Lyseth plan.

Botana said firm numbers would be available for School Board review May 7.

“We know we can only do $64 million worth of renovations,” he said. “(So), we’re going to have to cut back expectations to match what we have available” for funding.

“We’re going to do everything we can with that money,” Botana added, but “the focus has to be on what we can accomplish.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The District Advisory Building Committee wants to get started on the Lyseth Elementary renovation project in Portland despite a significant cost overrun. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation May 7.

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